Retrospectives help find the feedback from the team. The short iterations of the team coupled with the feedback help an agile team corrects itself. If there are issues and they never surface from no retro or poorly run retro the train could come off the track. We are going to first discuss some retrospective issues and some possible solutions.
I have pulled some of the major challenges I see and have heard from others in their retrospectives. A good retro is powerful in that helps the team course correct. If that opportunity is missed then the team can continue dysfunctionally producing poor output. If we miss something please add it into the comments.
Chain restaurants are consistent. They have similar menu and fare in almost every location. If you are looking for something more original and inspiring try a popular local restaurant. A good retrospective needs to be inspired and engaging. The team must feel like their input matters. The team that has nothing to share most likely is like a group of mercenaries going through the motion for a paycheck.
When teams cancel their retrospective this can send a red flag. Without the insightful sharing of feedback, the team may see no point. If the Scrum Master cancels it as they are too busy this also sends a message of their level of engagement. This important meeting should be brought back and it needs to be re-invigorated.
Merriam-Webster‘s dictionary defines perfunctory as “characterized by routine or superficiality or lacking in interest or enthusiasm.” This sounds like the word we wouldn’t want to use to describe a retrospective. I remember many years ago starting out as a Scrum Master with zeal and passion. I thought agile was different and exciting. As you do something over and again it loses the novelty. I have seen some perfunctory retros and they don’t help. If this is happening to you think about ways to change things up and bring it alive.
Believe it or not, there are some orphaned Scrum teams out there. Occasionally when the teams get shuffled around there is a transition period. It could be a few teammates are taking the Scrum Master role. The retrospective can have no owner. When there is no owner the leadership is lacking or even nonexistent. Hopefully, someone can fill in the void and a new leader found quickly or results will head south.
Have you ever heard the expression “10 lbs of stuff in a 5 lb bag”? My son likes to stick so much stuff in his backpack for school you would think he is going camping. Some Scrum Master who seem reluctant to schedule meetings tries to do all of their meetings together. They might do a sprint review, retrospective, and planning meeting together. They smash it all together and everyone just wants to get it done not participate.
We laid out a lot of issues you can run into with retrospectives. Each of these can be dealt with. Not that all solutions are easy but there are options. Scrum is a powerful tool and the retro is a key to gaining feedback. Like piloting a jumbo jet a Scrum team needs its information on how it is doing and what could change.
One simple solution for better retrospectives is to simply create some consistency. Are they on the same day? Early on when a team forms they may move things around a bit. That is okay but we need to create expectations that every Tuesday or every other Tuesday is the retro day. Next, is having it in the same place and time on that day.
Priming and reminding
If the Scrum Master can keep priming the team with, “that would be a good topic for the retro.” This can seed topics that you can dive into deeper next time. Along with that, it helps to remind them of some of the items you agreed on working on this sprint. Maybe it was showing up to the daily stand up on time. A subtle reminder to people can help it stick.
My brother and I were once cleaning out my mother’s car. In the glove compartment, we found multiple maps of Illinois and Chicago. Some of these maps were quite old. We surmised that my mother has been getting lost in Chicago since the early seventies. Part of the retrospective is to review what items we may have covered before. Especially if we see a pattern. Maybe we need to consider some new approaches.
Hopefully, some of these solutions can help your team. If it can just breathe some new life into your retrospective that might help too. Even asking different questions can help find different perspectives. What ways have you changed your retros?